Jack Shitama is the Executive Director of Pecometh Camp & Retreat Ministries where he has served since 2000. He is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and has served as pastor of churches in Port Deposit, MD and Chesapeake City, MD.
In my last post, I shared how you can strengthen your family by developing a historical narrative. This helps children grow up believing they are a part of something larger than themselves, resulting in greater well-being and resilience in the face of life’s inevitable challenges.
The same is true for the organization you lead, whether corporate, nonprofit or faith-based.
The bottom line: Effective leaders communicate organizational history. They help develop a historical narrative that’s a part of the culture. Here are three reasons why you should use organizational history as a leadership tool.
It reinforces the mission.
Just as developing a family narrative helps children feel part of something larger than themselves, your organizational narrative reinforces your mission. For example, the mission where I serve is to provide Christian hospitality and programming that promote God-inspired, life-changing experiences. Two of our former directors have told stories how they heard their calls to ministry in an outdoor chapel service during summer camp. A current staff member has a similar story, which occurred decades later. These stories give life to what we do, so that staff and volunteers understand that what we do makes a difference.
It creates identity.
Historical perspective helps your organization or ministry understand who you are. It helps you make the statement, “We’re the kind of people who…” For example, in a church that has a history of serving the poor in their community, the narrative will encourage people to say, “We’re the kind of people who serve those most in need so they’ll know God loves them.”
You might think that focusing on history just encourages stiff-necked people to glorify the past and resist change. Ironically, one of the key factors in effective change is an organizational identity. According to authors Dan and Chip Heath, in their book, Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard, identity has an important role in any change situation. People resist anything that violates who they think they are. On the other hand, they are likely to embrace anything that reinforces their organizational identity.
In the example above, church members are likely to resist a new ministry to corporate executives with hurried lives. It’s just not who they are. On the other hand, they will get excited about a new ministry to provide job skills for the working poor.
Which leads to the final way history can help you as a leader.
It can facilitate change.
Stories of the past can create resistance to change. But they don’t have to. The narrative can be a way to re-think how to do things or find new paths. One way to do this is find long-forgotten stories that shed new light on the current situation. These provide a counterpoint to often repeated stories that can keep things stuck. Another way to do this is to re-frame a well-known story to shift the narrative.
In 2003, we discerned God leading us to sell a beloved retreat facility and replace it with a new one on the camp property we already owned. It was a restored Georgian mansion that was given to our denomination by an anonymous donor in 1965, for use as a retreat center. The story goes that it was offered to another denomination first, but they turned it down. They thought it would be too expensive to operate. So we benefitted.
There was resistance to selling, because so many people had cherished memories of spiritual experiences they had there over nearly 40 years. We shifted the narrative to say how blessed we were that someone else turned down the gift because they thought it was too expensive to operate. It resulted in four decades of ministry. But, in the end, the other denomination was right. It WAS too expensive to operate and now it was time to sell. The retreat center was sold in 2005 and its replacement was completed in 2011.
It remains a cherished part of our history, but reframing the narrative helped others to see that a new path was not only possible, but was desirable.
Your role as a leader requires you to think about where you are going. But, that is anchored in a narrative that transcends you. Done properly, through reinforcing, and sometimes reframing, this narrative can provide meaning, purpose and direction for the organization you lead.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside of me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I was holding my grandson last night. He’s not even three months old. But when he’s older I will tell him this story.
The legend doesn’t mention anxiety. But I’m the anxiety guy. For me, everything comes back to whether or not something feeds anxiety or reduces it. You can’t always choose your circumstances, but you can choose which wolf you feed. One will breed anxiety. The other will breed hope.
The wolves are hungry to influence how you function in your family, work, church and the world around you. Here are some thoughts about how to feed the good wolf.
Listen without reacting.
The worst thing you can do in an anxiety-producing situation is speak. You are likely to introduce more anxiety, which creates a downward spiral. Keep your thoughts to yourself and just listen. Saying, “Thanks for sharing,” followed by phrases like, “Tell me more” or “What makes you feel this way?” is simple, shows respect and enables you to self-regulate. They feed the good wolf. Getting defensive and trying to convince the other that he or she is wrong will feed the evil wolf.
Say what you believe while giving others the freedom to disagree.
Listening doesn’t mean you have to stuff your emotions. But you need to self-regulate. The key to being a non-anxious presence is being able to say what you believe while staying emotionally connected. This is hard to do. You WILL feel anxious inside. But if you can do this calmly, even humorously, you can bring down the tension in the situation.
Here is a phrase you can practice. “Hey, I respect your opinion. I’m just saying what I believe. You don’t have to agree with me. I just feel I need to be honest because I value our relationship.”
You’ll need to practice it a lot. The higher the emotional stakes, the harder it will be to do. So if you’ve never taken an emotional stand with a parent (or fill in the blank, i.e. sibling, spouse, pastor, congregant, boss, co-worker, etc.), it will take a lot to be able to do this. And, the likely result is things will get worse before they get better. But, if you can maintain a non-anxious presence, you will feed the good wolf. For both of you.
An exception is social media.
When it comes to social media, don’t do anything. It is not a place where people can have a reasonable discussion. So, just keep your thoughts to yourself and let go of it. If you get into a “discussion (more like argument)” on social media, nobody wins. You feed the evil wolf. If you let go of what bothers you, you feed the good wolf. It might be hard at first, but it will get easier with practice.
Finally, attend to the things that matter.
Invest in your spiritual life. Here’s my post on that. Connect with your family, however it is configured. Work through the issues in your family of origin. Learn to take non-anxious, emotional stands with those who are most important to you. If you do these things, your good wolf will grow strong. You will live a life filled with hope. And the evil wolf will starve.
I was listening to a recent Freakonomics podcast where they discussed the issue of what to do when a highway merges from two lanes to one. As Cynthia Gorney writes in her New York Times article, The Urge to Merge, this situation presents an ethical dilemma.
Do you line up in the remaining lane well before the merge or do you drive in the disappearing lane until you are required to merge?
Gorney coined the term lineuppers for the former and sidezoomers for the latter. She is a lineupper.
According to Freakonomics economist, Steven Levitt, the lineuppers are actually slowing things down for everyone. The most efficient use of the highway is for drivers to use both lanes completely and alternate merging into the remaining lane. This is called the zipper merge. This actually gets everyone to their destination sooner than politely lining up for the remaining lane.
Levitt contends that to change driver behavior, we need to change the instructions. And, in fact, I occasionally see the sign “Alternate Merge” where two lanes permanently go to one.
But until then, what will YOU do?
Will you politely line up as sidezoomers fly by you? Or will you make the most of the available asphalt real estate? If you do the former, will you seethe at the injustice and nearly kiss the bumper of the car in front of you to prevent a lowly sidezoomer from squeezing in? If you do the latter, will you zoom by without feeling guilty, knowing that you are actually doing a service for those who come after you or will you refuse to make eye-contact with a lineupper for fear that you may lose your resolve?
For most, the presence of this situation creates surrounding togetherness pressure. I certainly feel this. Even though I know that sidezooming is legal and is more efficient, I am often a lineupper because I don’t want to appear to be a jerk to people I don’t’ know. That’s surrounding togetherness pressure.
What does this have to do with being a non-anxious leader?
A non-anxious leader is comfortable with the decisions she makes and is not worried about what other people think or do.
Here are two scenarios. Feel free to choose either one.
Choose to be a lineupper. Own it. But, don’t get resentful when sidezoomers go by you. It’s their right. And when the merge comes, let a car in, knowing that they zoomed passed you because they could. You can even say to them silently, “Have a nice day.”
Or, choose to be a sidezoomer. Own it. Don’t feel guilty. But, don’t get angry if there are lineuppers who don’t want to let you in. They’ve got their own issues.
It’s your choice. And that’s the point. A non-anxious leader is able to own her position while giving others the freedom to disagree.
Finally, we can all agree that “fake-exit” guy is wrong. You know, the one who bypasses gridlocked traffic by running up the exit lane, then merges back into traffic at the last minute. That’s just wrong. Of course, if you’re that guy, feel free to disagree.
According to Emory University researchers, Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush, the most important factor in the well-being of children is having a family narrative. This comes from knowing stories such as where their grandparents grew up, how their parents met, what were the family tragedies and even the story of their birth.
Duke and Fivush found that children from families with a strong narrative were more resilient. This makes them better able to navigate the challenges of life, contributing to increased well-being.
There are three types of family narratives. You can read a summary here, but I’ll give you a quick rundown.
Ascending-this is the rags to riches story. “We used to have nothing, but through hard work and sacrifice we got to where we are today.”
Descending-this is the opposite. “We were on top of the world, but lost it all.”
Oscillating-this is the healthiest. “We’ve had ups and downs in our family. We’re grateful for what we have and have stayed close as a family.”
Clearly, the third narrative has resilience built into it. But, Duke and Fivush contend that any narrative helps. They say children have more self-confidence when they have a strong “intergenerational self.” They are a part of something bigger then themselves.
I grew up listening to the stories that my parents told about growing up as Japanese Americans. We heard these over and over. A small handful became lore in our family. Both my parents were born in Seattle, Washington. Their parents had emigrated from Japan around the turn of the 20th century. Pearl Harbor was a defining moment in my parents’ lives, for different reasons.
My mom and her siblings were actually living in Japan at the time of Pearl Harbor. Her parents were in Seatlle. They had sent the children to Japan while my grandfather rebuilt the family business, which was hit hard by the Great Depression.
My mom was attending college in Tokyo but the rest of her family was in Hiroshima, her mother’s hometown. She would tell us that the whole college was gathered for the assembly. When she heard the news, she felt the floor spinning out from underneath her. She thought she might never see her parents again.
Pearl Harbor was a defining for my father because it meant that President Roosevelt issued executive order 9066, which interned anyone with 1/8 Japanese blood in the interior West.
As grandparents, my folks continued to tell these stories. Once we were at our annual family Thanksgiving week in Hatteras, NC, when the power went out. Instead of watching TV, movies or playing video games, our children sat with us in a candle-lit living room while my parents told their stories. The kids were mesmerized. It helped them to understand what made their grandparents tick. It helped them to see themselves as a part of something larger than themselves.
The power came back on at about 10 PM. It was like cockroaches scattering when the kitchen light is turned on in the middle of the night. They were gone in seconds. Back to their electronic entertainment. Nonetheless, the stories became an important part of who they are.
A family narrative is strengthened by traditions, holidays, family vacations, regular dinners and even quirky rituals. They help to weave a child’s own story into the larger family narrative.
When one of my sons was about five, he asked, “Dad, when I get married, will my wife be a part of the family?”
I said, “Of course.”
He replied, “No. I mean, will she get to come to Hatteras?”
For him, being a part of our family meant being a part of our most cherished traditions. That’s a good thing.
The family narrative helps to define who we are and what it means to be family.
Whether you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or cousin, you can help the children in your family of origin by strengthening the family narrative. Ask the elders in the family to share. If you’re an elder, then share your defining moments. It’s a gift you can give to the next generation.
Next time: How a narrative can strengthen your ministry, business or organization.
Givers are focused on others and what they need from them. They don’t worry getting credit. They genuinely want to help others succeed. Givers help others without expecting anything in return.
As you would imagine, takers are focused on self. They want to get more than they give. Getting credit for what they do is important. Their own interests come first. Most takers aren’t cutthroat. It’s more about self-preservation, believing if they don’t take care of themselves first, no one else will.
Matchers believe in fairness and reciprocity. If they help others, they expect something in return. If you turn down a matcher when asked for help, don’t expect them to help you when asked.
These social interactions styles are fluid. You don’t always operate with one style. In fact, Grant contends that most of us our givers in our personal lives with friends and family. We’ll give without expecting anything in return. However, in the workplace the majority of people are matchers.
Are you a giver, a taker or a matcher?
Grant found that the across occupations, givers fall to the bottom of the corporate ladder. They make less money, get less of their own work done and are judged by others to be less powerful and dominant. Sacrificing one’s own self-interest can have a cost.
Surprisingly, givers are also disproportionately represented among top performers in the workplace. For example, Grant found that successful salespeople had much higher scores on their desire to help others. These givers produced 50% more annual income for their businesses than takers or matchers.
When givers succeed, their colleagues are more likely to be happy for them. They’re cheering them on. It’s hard to cheer on a taker, but when a giver succeeds we often say it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.
So what’s the difference between givers at the bottom and those at the top? Self-differentiation.
Well, Grant doesn’t put it that way, but that’s my take. Self-differentiation is the ability to define one’s own goals and values in the midst of surrounding togetherness pressures. It’s the ability to stand up for you believe and what you need?
Here are four differences between successful and unsuccessful givers.
The ability to be appropriately assertive.
Successful givers are not timid. They are able to be assertive when necessary. Unsuccessful givers are door mats. If you can’t stand up for yourself, it’s likely that takers will exploit you. Sometimes you need to advocate for yourself. If you can do this in a non-anxious way, giving others the freedom to disagree, you will not be perceived as a taker. People will understand you to be a giver who knows who you are.
The ability to set boundaries.
Givers have a hard time saying no. If you are giver, this not only means that you have no time for your most important work, but it also leaves you prone to burnout and unnecessary stress. It’s OK to say no to requests from others. You don’t even have to give a reason. You can just say, “I’m sorry, I’m not able to do that.” If you are respectful, non-anxious and polite, the other will understand that they have to live with it.
What’s interesting is that givers have more latitude to say no, because they also say yes more often than takers and matchers. Because they have developed a reputation for being helpful, people give them more grace when they say no.
The willingness to ask for help.
It’s funny because most givers will gladly help others, but have a hard time asking for help themselves. It feels like a sign of weakness. Successful givers know this is false. They know they can’t do it alone and are willing to ask others for help when they need it.
If you are a giver, be realistic with yourself. Figure out where you are falling short and how others can help you. Then pray for the courage to ask. Self-differentiation isn’t always about taking an assertive stand. It’s sometimes means having the courage to ask for what you need.
The ability to keep empathy in check.
Research by Daniel Batson makes it clear that people who feel empathy are willing to put the needs of others before their own. This is not a bad thing, but it puts them at greater risk of exploitation by takers.
Grant says that if you are a giver, then you can move from being an empathizer to being a perspective taker. The former feels others’ pain. The latter thinks about what the other needs, what will serve them well and what is in their best interests.
Successful givers use perspective taking to see where interests align and how they might best help. Rather than succumbing to their feelings of empathy for the other’s predicament, they limit their help to where their own gifts and interests best align with the other’s. This helps to keep what they do more manageable and valuable.
Are you a giver? Take heart. Self-differentiation will enable you to use this gift to be a more effective leader.
If not, think about how you can become the kind of giver who makes a difference for others, your mission and yourself.
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
― M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth
I like to paraphrase Scott Peck this way. Life is hard. The sooner we realize this, the easier it gets.
In fact, I’ve decided that growing up is all about learning to do the things you don’t want to do. Some people learn this early in life. Some of us learn it later. Some never do.
I wrote recently about the symmetry of life. How sometimes hardship and blessing can balance each other out. But the reality is that most of us focus on the hardship and overlook the blessing.
Science bears this out. It’s called the Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry. Research consistently shows that we remember the obstacles and hardships that we have to overcome. These are the headwinds in life. Conversely, we overlook the resources that we have and the benefits we may get that others don’t. These are the tailwinds.
The results of studies from Davidai S. Gilovich include:
People consistently believe their parents favored their sibling.
Pro football fans think the schedule is biased against their favorite team.
Both Republicans and Democrats believe the electoral map favors the other party.
In other words, our human nature is that we focus on the headwinds in life and overlook the tailwinds.
I’m a runner. I’ve noticed this as a physical phenomenon. I run faster when I have a tailwind. But I can’t feel it. I’m just going with it. If I don’t think about it, I think it’s all me. I run slower into a headwind. I can feel it. Always. And I know that this is causing me to slow down.
What about you? Do you take your tailwinds in life for granted? Do you think about how hard your life is, but forget the blessings?
This can cause us to think that your church is the only one that is struggling. Or your family is the only one that is dysfunctional. Or that other pastors get better assignments. Or that other employees get favored by the boss.
Rather than focusing on what is good, we focus on what is hard.
The significant part of Gilovich’s research is this, the more someone feels they have been treated unfairly, the more likely they are to approve of morally questionable behavior.
Gratitude doesn’t just make life better for you, it will help you to live life in the way God intended.
So give thanks today for your tailwinds, whatever they may be. Acknowledge the privilege you have that others don’t. Think about the advantages that you have that you so often overlook. Remember the people who have helped you along the way. Perhaps you can even be somebody else’s tailwind. Your life will get easier.
The worst decision I made in seminary was to ask for an extension on a paper that was due the end of my last semester. The professor gave me a week. It was the just before Christmas and the idea of writing the paper hung over my head the whole time. I had lots of excuses to put it off. I was pastoring a church and it was Advent. We had four young children and I needed to help get ready for Christmas. I procrastinated like a pro, putting it off until the night before the extension deadline. Then I wrote the paper.
If you’re a procrastinator like me, you can relate to this feeling. It’s easy to come up with reasons why other things are more important. There is a gnawing in the back of your mind that keeps reminding you of what needs to be done. And, once you actually get started, you find that it wasn’t actually that bad. Sometimes it even feels good.
That’s the way I feel about writing, exercising and dealing with my inbox. I’ve gotten pretty good about the first two, They have become habits, so I know I just need to get started and once I’m in to it, I’m really glad.
My inbox is another story. It’s a slot in a bank of inboxes that we share as a staff. It’s only about three inches high and it’s usually full or close to full. I cherry pick “important” stuff off the top, which ends up on another stack on my desk. Since my ceiling is 10’ high, there is no limit to how high that stack can get.
Over the holidays I went through the stack on my desk (there were actually two), my inbox and the two stacks on my credenza. It felt great. Once I got started it wasn’t that hard. Much of the stuff was OCE (overcome by current events) and went straight into the recycling bin. Most of the rest needed filing and there were a handful of things that I still needed to act on.
Are there things you put off? The New Year is a time that we think about them and decide we’re going to do things differently. Here are three tips to help you get started.
Commit to a micro-habit.
A micro-habit directly addresses the issue of starting. If you want to start reading your bible daily, then set a goal of sitting in your chair and holding the bible for five minutes. Do that for a week, then add five minutes of reading to the goal. Do that for another week and then add five more minutes of reading. Keep that up and in seven weeks you’ll be reading 30 minutes each day. You can apply this to exercising, eating, praying, writing, cleaning, organizing or any other project that you want to get started. It works.
Pick a time and place.
One of the best ways to develop a habit is to make it a part of a routine that is grounded in a time and place. Over time, the “time and place” will trigger your actions so you do them without thinking. In our bible reading example, if you use the same chair every day, that will reinforce your habit. Eventually, just sitting down in your chair with your bible will make the reading part automatic. Better yet, if you’re doing it in the morning, then grab your coffee and head straight for the chair. The act of getting your first cup of coffee will be your cue that it’s time for bible reading.
I’m writing this blog in my cubby-hole of a desk in the corner of a spare room. Every morning, as soon as I put my journal down, I open up my PC and start writing. Or, if I’m not writing, I’m researching, outlining, proofreading or editing. Sometimes the work goes well. Other times it’s a grind. But, I’m working on my craft, a little bit at a time.
Again, you can apply this idea to just about any habit, goal or project. Over time, your brain subconsciously associates your habit with the time and the place and getting started is almost automatic.
Write down your goal and tell someone else.
Research is clear that the chances of success increase significantly if you do this. It’s using both accountability and support to help you get moving. It’s scary. It’s a lot easier to keep it to yourself. That way if you procrastinate, then nobody knows.
Once you write it down it becomes real. Once you tell someone it is out in the world. Ideally, the people you tell will encourage you and ask you how it’s going. Just knowing that others know about it is often enough motivation to get started.
I’ve just decided that I will spend five minutes each day in the office with the stuff in my inbox. I’ll grab it, then stand over the recycling bin and immediately toss what’s not important. I’ll deal with what’s left in the remaining amount of time. Ask me how it’s going in a few weeks.
The drool spot on my right shoulder got me thinking.
It’s there most days.
Some days it’s from my five month old grandson, Thomas. He’s our first. Before he was born, people kept saying, “Oh, being a grandparent is the best! There’s nothing like it!”
Because of the build-up, when people would ask me if I was excited to be a grandpa. I would always say yes. In my mind, I was thinking, “This better be good!”
And, of course, it is.
I get to see Thomas several days a week and I try to hold him as much as possible. When I do, he ends up drooling on my right shoulder. I’ve gotten used to checking to make sure if I need to clean off my shoulder, but sometimes I’ll get to the end of the day and there it is. It makes me smile.
Other days the drool spot comes from my father-in-law. He had a debilitating stroke three years ago that left his right side paralyzed, his speech unintelligible and left him with a condition called dysphagia, which is difficulty swallowing. We take part in his care and, because of the dysphagia, whenever I transfer him in and out of his wheelchair I usually get a drool spot on my right shoulder.
My father-in-law goes by Tom, and Thomas, his first great-grandchild, is his name’s sake.
The drool spot got me thinking about how precious life is and how we shouldn’t take anything for granted. I’m sure this is not new to you. It’s not new to me. But thinking about Tom and Thomas has deepened my appreciation. Maybe I’m just getting old.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
Accept the things you can’t change.
Tom’s stroke came two months after his 78th birthday. He was in great shape. Just before his birthday, he and 11 buddies made a golf trip to Ireland. He played seven courses in seven days and walked every one of them. Tom coached high-school and college football in Delaware and it seems that he knows everyone in the state. The outpouring of love that came after his stroke was overwhelming, especially from his former players. He had made an impact on their lives.
The sentiment at the time was that it was tragic that this stroke had damaged his body so severely in his golden years.
I guess that’s still true, but three years with him has given me a different perspective. I believe everybody has their time to go be with God and it wasn’t Tom’s time. That doesn’t make it easy. And ours isn’t the only family that has to deal with challenging circumstances. In fact, I think most families have challenges that make life hard.
But as a camp staff member said this summer, just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not good. Tom is still with us and I am grateful. It’s hard, but it is still good to have him.
The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr puts it best:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Being is more important than doing.
I’m not a Type A personality, but I am a doer. I like to keep things busy and to get things done. Once Jodi and I were on the planning team for a national camp & retreat event. We arrived at the venue two days before to get ready, helped run the four-day event, then spent a whole day afterward debriefing. It was non-stop activity for a week. We had decided to spend the weekend after the event to relax at a nearby hotel with a nice water view before traveling home.
The first day there I spent about six hours straight just sitting in an Adirondack chair on the deck, looking at the water. I didn’t read. I didn’t get my laptop out. I just sat. I was so whipped from the previous week that I just needed to do nothing. Jodi kept asking me if I was OK. She wasn’t used to seeing me do nothing and was worried. Like I said, I’m not Type A, but it made me laugh that she was concerned about my lack of activity.
When I see Thomas I just want to hold him. I don’t even talk to him that much. I probably should, to help develop his verbal skills. But I just like to hold him.
One day I was holding him and I realized how different this was than when I was parenting our four kids. I love them and loved holding them. But, I recognized the difference. As a parent, when I was holding my child, all I could think about were all the things that I had to get done. Work, household chores, etc. The classic conundrum was when a child went to sleep, should I take a nap because I was dead tired or should I get something done because I could. It was usually the latter.
Holding Thomas is different. When I’m holding him, I don’t think about what else I need to do. I enjoy the time we have. Perhaps this is age, wisdom, life experience or some combination of the three. But, I hadn’t learned this lesson until now. Being is more important than doing. We are human beings, not human doings.
There is something in me that says I could not have learned these lessons before now. Perhaps that’s true. And maybe the reason I share is so I can remind myself to be grateful for what Tom and Thomas have taught me. Thanks be to God.
The idea to write a book was a dream. I’m not unique. Over 80% of Americans say they want to write a book.
A year ago, I started writing for 30 minutes a morning. Within a month, I knew that I could get the book written. Within four months, I had a manuscript.
But how would I get it published?
I knew that the traditional route is a needle in a haystack proposition. I could try to find a literary agent who could pitch my book to a publisher. Or I could try the direct submission route. Either way, I would need persistence, as it would require persistence to keep going through multiple rejections.
J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before Harry Potter was published. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times. Stephen King had to go through 30 rejections with Carrie to get it published.
I had no idea if my book was any good, let alone a bestseller. I didn’t mind getting rejected. But, I have a day job and the amount of time I would have to spend to get through dozens of rejections was overwhelming.
I ran across this crowd-publishing platform as I was researching how to get published. With Publishizer, you can get the attention of publishers by proving that your book can sell. It’s a radical concept that is getting attention because publishers can less afford to put books out that don’t sell. I read every blog on their website.
But I was scared.
But then I read this blog post by Seth Godin. There’s a difference between “feels risky” and “IS risky.” I realized that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I knew that even if I got my book published, I would have to do the selling. Unless you are a top-tier author, you can’t really count on your publisher to provide much marketing support.
If I couldn’t get enough pre-orders for my book, then maybe it wasn’t meant to be published. But if I was successful, then instead of spending my time getting rejected, I could let Publishizer pitch my book to any of the over 180 publishers they work with, based on their proprietary algorithm.
The bottom line was this: Publishizer gave me the opportunity to see if I could sell my book BEFORE it was published. If the idea was attractive enough to get hundreds of pre-orders, then it had a good chance of getting published.
So I signed up. Here’s why it was worth it:
I got a step-by-step guide on what to do, including getting a book cover, producing a video, writing a book proposal and marketing through my own platform and network of contacts.
Publishizer provided a platform that was set up to load all these materials, could email my contacts and accept book pre-orders. It took no time at all to set things up.
I got personal support from Lee Constantine, Publishizer’s Director of Growth, throughout the process.
This meant I could focus my efforts on selling my book. I pretty much did exactly what the guide recommended. It’s not rocket science. In 30 days I sold 510 copies and raised $11,500.
I got inquiries from 12 publishers. I’ve ultimately decided to go the author-publisher route. But it wouldn’t have happened without Publishizer. I don’t think I am exceptional. Everything was laid out for me and all I had to do was put in the effort.
Are you one of the 80% who has a book in you? If so, email me. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have about how to make it a reality.
You want to make a difference, do something significant, but you feel that you mostly do the same old, same old.
Maybe you have a book in you. Or an idea to start a ministry in your community. Or a way to help others improve their lives. Or you want to start a business.
But you’re going nowhere.
It’s human nature to want to know all the steps before getting started. It’s natural to want to have it all figured out before making the big move. And that’s what will keep you stuck.
I was discussing starting a training program for camp and retreat leaders recently. I said, we just need to try something. Perfect is the enemy of done.
Here are three strategies for getting started.
Bonnie Blodgett calls herself the Blundering Gardener. She uses the term blunder because she will start a project without knowing how to do it. It requires learning along the way, which will inevitably lead to some blundering.
When you take on something new it will take longer than you expect. You’ll encounter obstacles. You’ll get stuck. But that’s part of the learning curve. Achievement nearly always includes learning. In the real world, that means blundering.
If you wait to become an expert at something, you’ll never get started. If you start something and learn along the way, then you’ll get something done. You won’t become an expert, at least not right away, but you WILL get better as you go. Blunder.
In his book, Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries, Peter Sims makes the case that experimentation is the key to finding big ideas. This sounds obvious when I say it this way because when we think of scientific discoveries, we automatically think of experimentation. But how often do you think that way in ministry? Or in business?
If you’ve ever had to make a proposal to a church council or a board of directors, you’ve likely been pressed to have thought through every task and contingency. This takes a tremendous amount of time and effort. The reality is all that planning can’t prevent unforeseen challenges.
Sims argues that instead of having everything planned out in advance, you try “little bets” toward what you think might be a positive outcome. He cites high achievers such as comedian Chris Rock, Steve Jobs, Pixar Films and the Army Chief of Strategic Plans, as well as Ludwig van Beethoven and Thomas Edison, as having achieved great things through little bets.
If you’ve got an idea, don’t wait until you have the entire plan to get started, otherwise you never will. Instead run a pilot project and see what happens. Make adjustments and do it again. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get to something significant.
Boast is not the correct term, but I love to alliterate.
What I mean is to put yourself out there. Tell others what you are doing. Not to boast, but to make your effort a reality. When you do this, you are much more likely to follow through.
When I started writing my book, the only person who knew about it was my wife. But I read that it helps to tell people, so I started sharing this when appropriate. It’s scary, but it works.
If you keep something to yourself, it’s no big deal if you don’t follow through. Although you’ll probably feel bad about it. When you share with others, you not only feel accountable to something beyond yourself, you also enlist the support and prayers of those who care about you. People will be pulling for you to succeed.
Which brings me to a final word about the life of faith. My experience is that when I feel God leading me to do something, I don’t get a clear picture. It’s usually a nudge or a glimpse of what’s possible. Then I know it’s time to take a small action. Sometimes it’s a bigger idea, but I have no idea how to get there. I know I’ll blunder. To me, that’s how faith works. If I knew everything at the outset, it wouldn’t be faith. The prayers of others make it more likely that I’ll discern what step, what action, God wants me to take next. It’s an exciting way to live.